While I will spend a good few paragraphs dedicating time to this collection of short stories, it really can all be summed up with one word, and concluded with two words of advice. Brilliant. Buy it. I’ve read plenty of short stories and attempts to “modernize” the Northern Myths in varied efforts to validate them, or to give them relevance, and most have had very little success. Stephen Abell is, as far as this reviewer is concerned, in a class of his own thus far. It can be noted, though there isn’t really any reason why it should be, that Stephen Abell is, in fact, a heathen. Generally this would mean absolutely nothing, as we have seen plenty of “heathen” literature without about as much culture, or substance as the daily zodiac at the local grocery store. Stephen Abell is different.
The book is, as explained, a collection of short stories. Most of which take place in modern times in settings which Abell brilliantly preserves the anonymity of, all while keeping them very familiar.
It is not a retelling of the Norse myths. The book opens with the simple question of “Where is it that gods go after they’ve been banished?” The stories contained are Abell’s answer to that question…to a degree. In his introduction, he describes the different elements of myth, history, and legend. The stories within are mostly modern legends containing projections of Norse Myth. Much of what happens, is by “implication”, as Abell says. Heathens will find themselves understanding and reading into the stories with a lot of “it seems as if…” while an individual without a heathen background might read the stories and come out with something entirely different. Either way, the layers are beautiful, and the stories beg to be retold again and again. Isn’t that how lore is born, and grows, and becomes tradition? In fact, Abell also points out in his introduction that these stories were meant to be spoken out loud. They were not meant to be contained on voiceless pages, but to be told to an audience, and while they do wonderfully as written and privately read pieces, their real magic might well lie in their true intention.
As wonderful as the stories are, it seems as if there is still room for Abell to grow and develop as a storyteller. I can only hope that he continues to write, and that he inspires others to step up and do the same. Heathenry needs more of this quality of literature.